1. Going too far out
When his father went to buy icecreams, Ali picked up the airbed and headed for the water.

“Don’t go too far!” called out his mā.


Ali knew why she was nervous. So many people from their country had gone to sea in rubber boats and died. But this was the first time he’d been to the seaside and he wanted to experience it as much as he could.

The sand was warm and soft where they’d been sitting but then became hard and flat where the sea had run over it. He stepped in the water with more confidence than the first time an hour or so ago. The cold had surprised him then and covered his body with gooseflesh, but that had passed as he got deeper and submerged his whole body. The waves were small and it hadn’t been too difficult to swim amongst them. He’d learned to swim at the local pool at home and he could manage a passable breast stroke. Still, when the next wave hit his belly, the shock stopped him briefly.

As soon as he was about waist deep, Ali put the airbed on the water and lay face down on it. Then he started paddling with his hands till he was out beyond where the waves were breaking. This is what surfers did, who he’d watched on Internet videos. When he thought he was clear of the surf, he rolled carefully onto his back and looked up at the sky. It was a light blue screen with only wisps of clouds high up, that didn’t seem to be moving at all. The sea rose and fell gently and the sunlight was a warm blanket over his whole body. Ali closed his eyes and enjoyed these lovely feelings. He knew his father would be angry and he’d not get his icecream unless he went back soon but this was too good to miss.

Their family hadn’t come across the sea in a rubber boat but in an airplane. He’d been too young to remember it and this country was the only one Ali knew. But he also knew that there was a war now in the country where he’d been born and lots of people were trying to get away from it but many of them had drowned in the sea. That made him sad but not afraid of the water like his father was. His father was a scientist and had brought them all to England so he could work at the university. That was before the war and now they couldn’t go back. Ali knew that his parents worried a lot about other relations who were stuck there and whether they were some of those who had died trying to get away. That was why Ali had waited till his father had gone off for icecreams before taking the airbed on the water. He knew he’d get told off but this was worth it.

Ali’s eyes were closed, his skin was warm, the airbed rocked on the swell. Time seemed to disappear. He had no idea how long he’d been there, nor how far out he was now. He’d heard about tides but didn’t know it had been going out since he entered the water. Nor did he know that there was a strong current along that coast that was now taking him even further away from the beach, where his parents stood frantically scanning the sea for a sign of their son. They shouted his name but he was too far away to hear them.

Suddenly the airbed stopped rising and falling on the sea but rose even higher with a rush of water and bubbling air. Ali sat up with a start and looked around him. He nearly fell off the airbed with shock. The land was just a dark line in the distance, while he was now surrounded by a yellow disk of some kind, shining with the water draining off it. Ali’s mind raced. Was it an island? Was it some kind of whale? How could he get back to his mum and dad? He was shivering with fear when there was a loud clang behind him. His head span round in time to see a head appear out of a hole in the yellow circle. It was covered all over, it seemed, with reddish curly hair and the face looked as astonished as he felt.

“What are you doing on my boat?” the head demanded. The boy sat and said nothing. His mouth wouldn’t work. The head looked around and then back at him. After some seconds it came to a decision and the man the head was attached to climbed out of the hole and came over to where Ali sat frozen with fear and confusion.

“You’re a long way from home” said the man, “I suppose you’d better come in.”

He helped Ali to his feel and guided him to the hole in the yellow circle and onto the ladder leading down inside. Then he picked up the airbed, saying, “We don’t want people to get the wrong idea.”